The novella "The Ballad of the Sad Cafe" is a Southern Gothic work with eccentric, lonely characters in a rundown Georgia town. Mi...moreNote: Spoilers Ahead
The novella "The Ballad of the Sad Cafe" is a Southern Gothic work with eccentric, lonely characters in a rundown Georgia town. Miss Amelia Evans is a six foot two inch rugged woman. She's the owner of a general store, and does a bit of healing with herbs on the side to help the townspeople. They gossip about her ten day marriage to Marvin Macy which ended after she refused his sexual advances. Marvin left town for a life of crime, and landed in the penitentiary.
A hunchback dwarf, Lymon Willis, comes to the store professing to be Miss Amelia's cousin. Miss Amelia takes him in, and they turn the store into a bright cafe where the townspeople socialize. Although Lymon seems to be a parasite, Miss Amelia loves him and seems happy living with him. When Marvin gets out of jail, Lymon is fascinated by him and ignores Miss Amelia. A triangular love relationship is formed where the beloved does not love the person who loves them.
Carson McCullers had a troubled marriage with her spouse who had a male lover. She would certainly understand the dynamics of a triangular relationship, and the devastation that could result. There are a wonderful pages in the book, too long to quote here, about the relationship between the beloved and the loved.
The book also contained six short stories about love:
"Wunderkind" is about a promising young pianist who loses her emotional feel for the music. (McCullers had taken piano lessons for years before giving it up when her piano teacher moved when her husband had a job relocation.)
"The Jockey" focuses on the emotions felt by an older jockey when he sees the indifference of a group of businessmen to the news that his friend, a younger jockey, has a permanent injury. The businessmen are only concerned about money and winning, not personal tragedy.
"Madame Zelensky and the King of Poland" is about a musician who tells exaggerated stories. Her real life has no time for anything but the music she loves, so she invents a personal life.
"The Sojourner" tells about a man who sees his ex-wife and her new happy family. He realizes he needs a life with deeper meaning.
"A Domestic Dilemma" involves a husband coming home from work to find his wife drunk again, and the children unattended. How much will his young, beloved children remember about her behavior, and can their marriage last? McCullers writes about the "immense complexity of love" in this story.
"A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud" shows a drunk man telling a paperboy about the science of love. After losing the love of a woman, he decided to start loving again on a small scale, loving a tree, a rock, a cloud. A sad story.(less)
In the Australian bush, in the mid-19th Century, a small community of families from Scotland and England have set up homes. The settlers are surprised...moreIn the Australian bush, in the mid-19th Century, a small community of families from Scotland and England have set up homes. The settlers are surprised when a "black white man" appears at a farm at the edge of the bush. He is Gemmy Fairley who had been cast off a British ship near the northern shore of Australia at age 13. He was found by the aborigines and lived with them for 16 years. He only remembers a few words of English, and seems neither English nor aborigine. His childhood in England had been the horrific life of a street urchin before he went off to sea. Gemmy was taken in by the McIvor family, but does not feel truly part of either culture--European or aborigine. Some of the settlers fear the black aborigines, and do not trust Gemmy.
Told from the point of view of many of the colonials, the virtues, flaws, fears, and opinions of the people are shown. For example, the minister loves botany and values Gemmy as a resource for identifying edible plants used by the aborigines. The isolated group of settlers were the first Europeans to live in that part of Australia, and they had to cope with many unknowns. But some neighbors are so terrified that the aborigines will attack their families that the men attack the timid Gemmy in the middle of the night. Fortunately, the eccentric Mrs Hutchence extends kindness to all, including Gemmy.
The adjustment to a different land where they had no history, the loneliness, and the isolation was difficult for the settlers. The Scottish Mrs McIvor thought, "It was the fearful loneliness of the place that most affected her--the absence of ghosts....She had not understood, till she came to a place where it was lacking, the extent to which her sense of the world had to do with the presence of those who had been there before, leaving signs of their passing and spaces still warm with breath--a threshold worn with the coming and going of feet, hedges between fields that went back a thousand years, and the names even further..."
Neither the aborigines nor the colonials understood the others' culture. Gemmy was white, but his experiences gave him the skills to live in the bush and to communicate with the aboriginal tribe. The settlers had the fear of the unknown in a new land, and many expressed racial and cultural intolerance. The book has an interesting title, "Remembering Babylon". The Old Testament has many references to Babylon. One reference is to the Hebrews in exile in Babylon, away from their homeland in Zion. Another reference is about the confusion and inability to communicate as people spoke in different tongues during the construction of the Tower of Babel. Both Bible stories would seem to fit the themes of the book. (less)